I have been thinking a lot about the state of the World and its relation with the Church. I want to start by saying that I believe that the Church should absolutely not conform to the values of the World. But I also think that we use this idea to assert a 'culture' by which we view our faith. We wrap truth inside values and traditions that we bring to the table. This isn't inherently bad, and I will go so far as to say that it is impossible to not look at our faith through some lense of conformative culture. That's why Baptists drink grape juice, even though Jesus used wine during the Last Supper. If we would follow in the example that Jesus set, we would explicitly "Do This" we' use wine, but we are satisfied with the symbolic gesture so we don't muddy ourselves in other theological worries. There are many other Heaven-bound Christians who aren't so encumbered by this (They don't transate certain passages the same way we Baptists do.) My point is not to discuss alcohol and it's prohibition, but rather to point out that there are things that we bring FIRST to the table, and that preconception informs how we approach our faith.
I was reading an article by John Piper today on his thoughts of Lecrae, and how Lecrae is separating himself from 'white evangelicals.' Throughout the article I believe that Piper is exceeingly fair to Lecrae, and affords a great amount of grace to him. If you don't know, prior to the past few years, Lecrae has been celebrated by many as the (as the Washington Post say) an "evangelical mascot." He is a person of color with deep faith that has reached across the racial aisle and embraced the culture. He said all the things we wanted said, and he did all the things we wanted done.
Then in 2014 Michael Brown was shot.
We all then took to social media (myself included) and began to debate endlessly on whether or not the shooting of this kid was justified. We drew lines in the sand and we all took sides. While I don't want to put words in his mouth, I don't have space to go through every thing that he said on the subject, but effectively he started by wondering how on earth we can be so empathetic about things happening across the world, and yet not have enough empathy for the people in our back yard. He said that "I see a Jesus empathize with the MOST undeserving people ever. He offers a thief on the cross a home in Paradise. He dies for a rioting mob of angry killers. He looks upon a sinful world with compassion,"... "And here we stand saying we believe that and all the while unfazed at the pain of a community."
For the first time, he is saying things that are putting him at odds with the folks who feel like justice was served. Michael Brown charged a police officer. Michael Brown was stealing from a store. He was a 'thug.'
I believe he was. But Jesus loved him.
Lecrae points to the lack of empathy and the smug responses from white Christians as "salt in the wound." It was as this time that Lecrae began to move to speaking more on the social justice front, feeling that to really have a voice, he would have to part with people whom he feels would be disappointed in his words. John Piper spells much of this out in his article, and takes a position of "I have hope because he isn't leaving Jesus behind." That's true, but as I think about it...it's really sort of empty.
As I was driving home, I was contemplating on two verses: Matt 25:40 and John 13:1-17. The first comes after two parables that I'm not equipped to break down, so forgive me. The virgins miss out on the marriage feast because they fell asleep and weren't vigilant. The servant missed out on a reward because the Master gave him 2 talents, an he wasted it by burying it for fear of the wrath of the master. Then Jesus says at the Day of the Lord, the Shepard will divide everyone up, the goats on the left and the sheep on the right. He will tell the Sheep that because they fed and clothed him, they were welcome. The Righteous ask how they know it's him, and he responds,
"Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers,f you did it to me."
My two cents here: Christ has given us a mission to do right by people. We are to love them as Christ loves us...and this doesn't mean a polite "just have good feelings" about them, but we should really form relationships with and LOVE real, specific people Christ brings to us. I think that these parables work together. The foolish virgins were foolish because they knew they were supposed to be somewhere, but didn't stay prepared; the servant was foolish because he knew what his master wanted him to do, but was afraid of losing his masters property so he hid it, and then Jesus wraps it up by telling the disciples that the Shepard invites those who welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, visit those who were sick, or in prison, fed the hungry, and gave water to the thirsty.
I think that we focus on our ourselves too much. I have seen some really ugly, smug, sanctimonious things coming out of the Church recently. We worry about all of the freedoms WE are losing. WE worry about the comforts that we have going away. WE worry about our music, attracting the RIGHT type of people, and making sure that Church panders to us, our likes, our preferences. We think that whomever is upset about Freddie Gray, Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Philando Castillo's deaths don't understand that you just "comply with a cop's order, or "Not" be in a gang, or even...don't beat up a rent a cop. I don't disagree, but note something interesting: Jesus makes no qualifier in whom we should have empathy for. Further, I would go so far as to say that since Jesus loves me while I'm in open rebellion with him, he demonstrates a level of self-less love that we have a hard time understanding.
To John: Jesus washes the disciple's feet. Think about that...the Son of God, God himself, stoops and demonstrably takes the lowest job of a servant. The Ordinances of Baptism and The Lord's Supper point to man's relationship with God. I would argue, that while Footwashing doesn't represent how man relates to God (thus why it isn't an ordinance) God did demonstrate it to us in order that we learn how to demonstrate how to love each other. We should be submissive. We should see needs, and put the needs of others over our own position.
This is what I see wrong in the Church. We have pastors all over this nation building graveyards in the pews, encouraging people to hold fast, to not compromise (it doesn't matter 'what'....just don't compromise) and to stay doing what we're doing. We never ask the question if what we are holding fast to is strong, biblical teaching, or if it is that culture thing. We have Churches arguing amongst themselves over complex and irrelevant things while Christ calls us to simplicity: Love God, Love People. We don't need to look to the changing culture to find the cancer that is killing the American Church...It is the fact that we don't love God enought to humble ourselves and deny our own stations, and we don't love each other enough to put their needs over ours.